We use the term enrichment all the time in our newsletters and blogs and we thought, “Maybe our donors and supporters aren’t aware of what enrichment really means.” So here it is, enrichment in a nutshell.
What is enrichment?
It’s an animal husbandry principle that can help improve the quality of life of captive animals. Enrichment may help increase stimulus of the animal to improve their physiological and psychological well-being. There are several types of enrichment; social, occupational, physical and sensory.
Groups or pairs of animals living together provide social enrichment for each other. Habitat size and complexity provides physical enrichment along with adding new accessories such as perches, caves and pools.
Sensory enrichment involves the senses such as visual, auditory and olfactory. Perfumes or other scents can activate an animal’s need to scent mark while things like vocalizations from different animals or people can invoke an animal’s defense or offense behavior. If an animal hears a bird, they will likely try to find that bird and stalk it, but if they hear the roar of a lion, they might feel the need to hide.
And lastly, occupational enrichment can be provided to stimulate the animal’s mind. Puzzle feeders, hiding food or an item that provides exercise are all considered occupational.
What is the goal of enrichment?
Enrichment is developed with a certain goal in mind; what species specific behavior will this enrichment item encourage from the animal. For example, an African serval can leap several feet in the air to catch their prey. In order to bring out this behavior in a captive animal, the enrichment item would have to mimic a prey item. A toy or food treat can be suspended in the air by a cable going across their habitat thus creating a reason for the animal to exhibit the species specific behavior of leaping into the air to catch their prey. Some of the natural behaviors enrichment can encourage are play, hunting, foraging and scent marking.
Other goals achieved by enrichment include an increase in behavioral diversity and stimulation, increase in the ability to cope with challenges, increase the positive use of the environment and reduce the frequency of abnormal behavior.
Each individual animal and their behavior is taken into account when creating and delivering enrichment. They give us clues to what sort of enrichment they would like. A timid animal, for example, may want an enrichment item they can investigate during the night with no people around. Other more active animals will search out new enrichment and quickly discover what the keepers have given them.
What are some of the enrichment items?
Some of the enrichment items may not seem natural, but they inspire natural behaviors. The Wildcat Sanctuary offers each resident a variety of enrichment items a minimum of three times a week. It’s important to change the type of enrichment given so the animals do not become desensitized to the enrichment item.
This is one of the reasons we give out holiday-themed enrichment. Each holiday has its own theme and we can therefore create new items each time. Although giving out paper hearts for Valentine’s Day and wrapped presents for Christmas doesn’t seem natural and may not portray the animals in their natural environment, they do stimulate natural behaviors such as play, scent marking and even hunting as they tend to stalk the item before pouncing on it and destroying it.
In addition to making enrichment items, we also use purchase toys such as jolly balls. Many of the animals like to chase and stalk these balls like they would their prey. Carlo, the cougar, spends every waking minute batting his ball around and will vehemently defend it when others approach him.
We also hide food within the habitats to encourage a natural foraging behavior. This increases the positive use of their environment and stimulates their minds. Other things such as perches, hammocks, pools and caves provide a variety of places to climb on, hide under, cool off and relax. Sometimes the simplest enrichment invokes the biggest response such as moving a log or rock to a new place. Not only do they investigate the item that was moved but also the place it was moved from.
Companionship from other animals is another important form of enrichment. We find that many of our residents enjoy living with others. We also know which of our residents will not tolerate living with another animal and therefore can live alone peacefully. Every resident receives individualized care and we take their natural behaviors and personalities into account for every type of enrichment offered. You can watch our residents have fun with their enrichment on our YouTube channel here.
These are some of the many scents we use for the cats here at the Sanctuary:
Spices and Herbs
- Curry powder
- Mustard Powder – no seed or plant
- Cinnamon Powder – no oil
- Tomato paste – no leaf or stem
- Cat nip
- Rescue Remedy
- Linden Blossom
- Jovan Musk
- Calvin Klein Obsession for Men